PM says no to decriminalization
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has closed the door on decriminalizing illicit drugs to combat a national overdose crisis but British Columbia’s addictions minister says unprecedented deaths are a “wake-up call’’ to reconsider that stance.
Trudeau said decriminalization is not the approach Canada will take to deal with deadly overdoses often involving the opioid fentanyl.
“We are making headway on this and indeed the crisis continues and indeed spreads across the country but we are not looking at legalizing any other drugs than marijuana for the time being,’’ Trudeau told a news conference Thursday at the end of a caucus meeting in Kelowna, B.C.
Hours earlier, the BC Coroners Service released statistics saying fentanyl has been detected in 81 per cent of illicit drug deaths in the province so far this year — an increase of 143 per cent over the same period in 2016.
In most cases, the synthetic opioid was combined with other drugs including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, the service said.
Trudeau said Canada is tackling the overdose issue through a broad range of actions including “border controls, the inspection of small packages, by working with our partners, whether it be the United States or China, by ensuring that all levels of government, provincial, municipal and federal are working together.’’
Judy Darcy, British Columbia’s minister of mental health and addictions, said criminalizing people for having limited amounts of drugs for their own use instead of providing treatment puts them at risk of fatally overdosing.
“I think we need to have this conversation in this country,’’ she said of decriminalizing small amounts of drugs such as heroin. “Sometimes governments need to be pushed.’’
Darcy said decriminalization would go a long way in destigmatizing substance use because shame often bars people from getting treatment or even using supervised consumption sites where staff have access to overdose-reversing medication.
“If this overdose crisis is not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is,’’ she said. “Not treating addiction the way we would any other chronic condition clearly is not working.’’
Darcy said federal government policies have allowed Vancouver to open North America’s only injectable heroin clinic for chronic substance users who have failed with other treatment options, and now decriminalization must be considered.